, UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 – The UN Security Council on Monday toughened sanctions against Eritrea which neighboring governments accuse of plotting terrorist attacks and supporting Somali Islamist rebels.
A resolution, passed with 13 votes in favor, while Russia and China abstained, allows the council to increase the number of individuals and entities that can be hit with a travel ban and assets freeze.
Eritrea has been accused of supporting Shabaab Islamist militants in Somalia with finance and weapons. A UN sanctions monitoring group has linked the Asmara government to a bomb plot against an African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January.
The Security Council demanded that Eritrea “cease all direct or indirect efforts to destabilize states, including through financial, military, intelligence and non-military assistance.”
It also condemned the alleged plot on the African summit.
However, demands made by Gabon and Nigeria, which drew up the resolution, to ban investment in Eritrea’s key mining industry and stop a government tax on remittances sent back by Eritrean workers abroad were dropped.
Several western governments felt the measures would harm Eritrea’s population. The Horn of Africa country is one of the world’s poorest.
Eritrea has strongly denied the claims made about its activities. But no Eritrean officials spoke at the meeting.
Before the vote, several East African leaders called on the Security Council to clamp down on Eritrea, which was first hit by UN sanctions in 2009.
“It is a problem of attitude of a certain clique in Asmara that has never grown up from a rebel group,” said Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. “It is a problem of lawlessness and reckless disregard for international law.”
“The regime in Eritrea insists on terrorizing my people,” said Somalia’s President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
After the vote, US Ambassador Susan Rice said: “We have sent a clear message to the government of Eritrea that it must cease all illegal actions threatening international peace and stability.”
“Our goal is to show Eritrea that it will pay an ever higher price for its actions,” the US envoy added.
Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia in 1993 and fought a war with its neighbor from 1998-2000. Eritrea also has territorial disputes with Yemen and Djibouti which have led to clashes.
Eritrean forces “shot first then started talking,” Zenawi said.
Somali president Ahmed told the council how he had even asked late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to convince Eritrea’s hardline president Issaias Afeworki to stop backing Shabaab.
Gaddafi “informed me that that had been rejected. He also informed me that the (Eritrean) president clearly stated that reconciliation with my country would be impossible,” Ahmed said.
Shabaab has been accused of carrying out bomb attacks in Kenya and other neighboring countries and Kenya’s Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said: “Eritrea has been supplying arms and ammunitions and other logistics to Shabaab.
“This is truly a hostile and an enemy act by a country that ought to be an active member” of the East African community, Wetangula said.
Afeworki had asked to personally address the Security Council but Eritrean diplomats said he did not have time to get to New York for Monday’s meeting.
The meeting date was fixed last Wednesday and US envoy Rice said Afeworki’s visa had been issued in “close to record” time.
Russia and China said they abstained on the resolution because of their traditional opposition to sanctions on individual countries.